We have previously reported about different aspects of life in Palau: the problems the country is facing regarding the ongoing(!) drought, the low level of affordable Internet connectivity, and about the Island Ark Project's collaboration with staff of the Ministry of Education of Palau.
This blog post concerns a reflection of the daily life of Palauans as we encountered it. Surely, we may have misunderstood some phenomena, a natural side-effect of trying to get to grips with an unfamiliar culture.
If one description seems appropriate for Palau it may be that of a tropical paradise ... hooked on American culture. Indeed, the natural and cultural environment of Palau is stunning. As you can see on top - in many of the pictures - the Palauan society has often blended in seamlessly into the lush island flora. Particularly, Babeldaob (dubbed "Big Island"), with its waterfalls, forests, mangroves-lined shores and beaches is a beautiful reminder of the natural beauty that once covered all of the islands.
Koror - the buzzing epicenter of the country's economy and social life - stands in stark contrast to the Big Island and some of the smaller and outlying islands. Koror's streets are wide and filled with Japanese built cars. Much like a coastal community in Florida or (presumably) Hawai'i, everyone takes their car even for the shortest distances. An expert on environmental protection told us that Palauans perceive it as little glamorous to walk next to the road, an activity that is equated with poverty or lower social status. Hence, we were told, Palau has a higher per-family car ownership than the United States, and that in a country where 70 percent of the population live on one small island. Being quickly identified as foreigners, we had no stigma when we hitch-hiked. It was very convenient and we were picked up by many amazing people including by a governor, an ambassador and a famous singer.
It is difficult not to describe the consumerism in Palau as "Americanized". Several shelf meters of SPAM (canned meat) can be found in most supermarkets. Bud Light and M&Ms sell well, so does fried chicken. Not very American are the Bentō boxes filled with local fish, tapioca and taro. This makes Palau easy to travel for most tourist. With the arrival of more and more Chinese tourists, the cityscape changed and many "Chinese Fast Food" signs are found along the main road in Koror.
Still - and we will write a separate post on this - the traditional culture is alive and kicking. There is even a renaissance of Palauan culture in the sense of cultural protection. If one fears that traditional culture is easily side-lined by a booming tourism industry and foreign products, one take comfort in the numerous initiatives to protect it.
Island Ark Team
We write this blog as a team to showcase our activities around the globe, from meetings at UNESCO in Paris to on-island research and implementation work. We hope you enjoy reading about our journey.